Thursday, June 7, 2018

HOW TO MEDITATE—IT'S SIMPLER THAN YOU THINK


'Meditation is not divorced from our daily living. In the very understanding of our daily living meditation is necessary. That is, to attend completely to what we are doing. When you talk to somebody, the way you walk, the way you think, what you think, to give your attention to that. That is part of meditation.'—J. Krishnamurti.

Here are the names of a couple of people of yesteryear. There will be more than a few readers who will have heard of them, but there will ever so many people who will not have heard of them at all, which is a great pity. The names of the two people are Annie Besant and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Both were incredible women.

Annie Besant
During her lifetime Annie Besant was many things—minister’s wife, atheist, secularist, reformer, Fabian socialist, advocate of women’s rights and socio-political change, author, Theosophist, Co-Mason, orientalist and leader of the movement for Indian home rule. Madame Blavatsky (‘HPB’) was quite a woman as well. She was a Russian occultist, spiritual philosopher and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Besant met HPB in or around 1890—HPB died the very next year—and in August 1890 HPB moved in to Besant’s house in St John’s Wood, London. Anyway, here’s a little anecdote Mrs Besant would tell. She once asked HPB, ‘How shall I meditate?’ HPB is said to have replied, ‘Stick your stamps on straight, my dear.’

Now, for the benefit of those who haven’t posted a letter—remember them?—in some time, or have never posted a letter, HPB is referring to licking (yes, licking) a postage stamp and then neatly but firmly affixing the stamp to the top right hand corner of an envelope. Hence, ‘Stick your stamps on straight.’ Of course, HPB is using an analogy. What she is saying is that, in order to meditate, you must take care to ensure that you perform your daily tasks, no matter how seemingly unimportant or trivial, with proper attention to detail and the effort to do it right.

H P Blavatsky
Note Mrs Besant’s question—‘How shall I meditate?’ She was asking for a method or technique. I hate the words ‘method’ and ‘technique’ as well as the 'how' word. I really do. My use of the word 'how' in the title to this post, implying the supposed need for a method or technique in order to achieve the sought-after end, is intentionally provocative, not to mention a bit mischievous. 

There’s a Zen story that goes like this. A disciple says to the master, ‘I have been four months with you, and you have still given me no method or technique.’ The master says, ‘A method? What on earth would you want a method for?’ The disciple says, ‘To attain inner freedom.’ The master roars with laughter, and then says, ‘You need great skill indeed to set yourself free by means of the trap called a method.’ Yes, I do have a real aversion to all so-called ‘methods’, ‘systems’ and ‘techniques.’ Don’t ask, ‘how’. Just do it! (I think that's not just a slogan but a trademark as well.) True meditation is a choiceless awareness applied it to one’s whole day, indeed one’s whole life. The philosopher and authority on Zen and all things magical and mystical, Alan Watts wrote that meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment’.

Annie Besant 'first day cover'.
Indian Posts & Telegraphs. October 1, 1963.

That, my friends, is what mindfulness is all about—living from moment to moment with awareness and being fully present during each immediate moment. True meditation occurs when there is a directness and an immediacy about your experience of life. All so-called methods, techniques and systems are an artificial construct—a barrier—to your moment-to-moment experience of life. Thousands of people spend a small fortune on courses, lessons and tuition on how to meditate. They recite mantras, affix their eyes upon an object, go into a trance-like state, and so on. The Indian spiritual teacher, international speaker and author Jiddu Krishnamurti was dismissive of all forms of meditation—except one. This is what he had to say about a commonly practised form of concentration meditation known as mantra meditation:

The other method [mantra meditation] gives you a certain word and tells you that if you go on repeating it you will have some extraordinary transcendental experience. This is sheer nonsense. It is a form of self-hypnosis. By repeating Amen or Om or Coca-Cola indefinitely you will obviously have-a certain experience because by repetition the mind becomes quiet. It is a well known phenomenon which has been practised for thousands of years in India---Mantra Yoga it is called. By repetition you can induce the mind to be gentle and soft but it is still a petty, shoddy, little mind. You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day. In a month you will be worshipping it and not to put a flower in front of it will become a sin.

So, what, then, is true meditation? Krishnamurti went on to say:

Meditation demands an astonishingly alert mind; meditation is the understanding of the totality of life in which every form of fragmentation has ceased. Meditation is not control of thought, for when thought is controlled it breeds conflict in the mind, but when you understand the structure and origin of thought, which we have already been into, then thought will not interfere. That very understanding of the structure of thinking is its own discipline which is meditation.

Meditation, which Krishnamurti saw as a lifelong inquiry into what it means to be truly present and aware, occurs when you live in the action of the present moment, as opposed to the so-called present moment itself, for as soon as you say 'the present moment' you are in the past, you are involved in memory, and thus not living in the present moment. One more thing. You can only be said to be living in the present when your mind is free from all ideas of ‘self’. When you have the idea of ‘self’ (that is, of ‘I’ and ‘me’) you are living either in the past or in the future. 

‘Stick your stamps on right, my dear.’ Attend to the small, ordinary things of life with an ‘astonishingly alert mind’. Yes, meditation is in the direct and immediate living of your daily life, from one moment to the next.


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